From Smirking Chimp
Donald Trump was elected president of the United States a year ago this week.
His ascendancy in US politics has made visible a culture of cruelty, a contempt for civic literacy, a corrupt mode of governance and a disdain for informed judgment that has been decades in the making.
It also points to the withering of civic attachments, the undoing of civic culture, the decline of public life, the erosion of any sense of shared citizenship and the death of commanding visions.
As he visits Asia this week in a trip that those in the White House, as usual, feared could careen spectacularly off the rails, the world will once again witness how Trump's history of unabashed racism and politics of hate is transformed into a spectacle of fear, divisions and disinformation.
Under Trump, the plague of mid-20th century authoritarianism and apocalyptic populism have returned in a unique American form. A year later, people in Asia and the rest of the world are watching, pondering how such a dreadful event and retreat from democracy could have taken place.
How could a liberal society give up its ideals so quickly? What forces have undermined education to the extent that a relatively informed electorate allowed such a catastrophe to happen in an alleged democracy?
George Orwell's "ignorance is strength" motto in 1984 has materialized in the Trump administration's attempts not only to rewrite history, but also to obliterate it. What we are witnessing is not simply politics but also a reworking of the very meaning of education both as an institution and as a broader cultural force.
Trump, along with Fox News, Breitbart and other right-wing cultural institutions, echoes one of totalitarianism's most revered notions: That truth is a liability and ignorance a virtue.
As the distinction between fact and fiction is maligned, so are the institutions that work to create informed citizens. In Trump's post-truth and alternative-facts world view, nothing is true, making it difficult for citizens to criticize and hold power accountable.
Education Viewed With Disdain
Education and critical thinking are regarded with disdain and science is confused with pseudo-science. All traces of critical thought appear only at the margins of the culture as ignorance becomes the primary organizing principle of American society.
For instance, two thirds of the American public believe that creationism should be taught in schools and more than half of Republicans in Congress do not believe that climate change is caused by human activity. Shockingly, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government.
In addition, a majority of Republicans believe that former President Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim, a belief blessedly skewered upon Trump's arrival a few days ago in Hawaii, Obama's birthplace.
Such ignorance on behalf of many Americans, Republicans and Trump supporters operates with a vengeance when it comes to higher education.